The big news after the 2012 season was done was Rory McIlroy deciding to leave Titleist for Nike.
There was an immediate uproar for one or two reasons. (1.) The amount of endorsement money McIlroy received, and, (2) the huge risk he was taking moving from clubs that had won major championships — the U.S. Open and
the Masters the PGA Championship — to the great unknown of just what the Nike product line could do for his game.
He has had flashes of brilliance since the process of the change began; he has also had flashes of flames as rounds spiraled into missed cuts.
Here’s a series of questions that came up in Tuesday’s media room sessions at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, that delve into these mysteries and McIlroy’s wholesomely sincere answers as best he knows now:
I know sometimes people make comments about when someone changes equipment from one company to another. When you don’t have early success, some people will question the move in changing equipment. Do you see that as being a factor for you so far, or are you adjusting to it?
It’s fine, I knew coming into it was going to be a bit of a process and I knew it there was going to be comments if it didn’t happen for me right way.
I’m only two tournaments into the season. I’ve still got more than 20 to go or 20 to go. So it’s not like I’m in any rush; it’s not like I’m pushing for answers or I’m looking for answers. Everything’s there. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.
So are we making too much of it then?
Of course. Like you’s always do with everything (laughter).
I’m going to stick with that theme. Just talk a little about the adjustment to the equipment; one, how much time did you actually have spend making the adjustment? And secondly in terms of these early‑season struggles or whatever you want to call them, is it more some swing issues or is it still adjusting to the equipment, a combination of both?
Yeah, I mean, in regards to your first question, I mean, it’s still — I guess it’s still an adjustment period. It’s going to be a gradual thing. There’s obviously a bit of an overlap there and you have to just try and get your way into it as best you can.
But you know, as I said the last few weeks, it’s more about how I’m swinging the club. That’s the real concern — not concern for me, it’s not a concern, but I would like to get back to where I was say the middle of last year. Because if you put my swing now up the way I was swinging it last year, it’s chalk and cheese [that can’t be good]. So that’s the real thing that I’m working on.
Why do you think that’s happened, the fall‑off in the swing?
You just get into bad habits. You get into bad habits. I didn’t take — I took two weeks off after Dubai at the end of the season and got back right into practice. I guess once you get into a bad habit, it’s such a — for the first, you know, few weeks, it’s such a strange feeling trying to get out of it, and nearly exaggerating the feeling that you need. It’s still something that I’m trying to work on.
And then just real quick, how much time did you spend going through the testing process and so forth end of last year?
A lot. As I said, I usually take more weeks off, after Dubai, maybe take four or five, six weeks off after Christmas, but I started hitting balls again at the start of December. You know, I was hitting balls all the way through, and was still trying to tweak a few things here and there and get the right settings for driver or get the right ball.
So there was — it took a little bit of time. But I felt like when I turned up Abu Dhabi, I was pretty much ready, but you never really know until you play competitive rounds. You know, that shored up a few things in my swing, and in the equipment and I went and rectified that.
As I said, last week [at the Accenture Match Play Championship] I felt like I drove the ball very well, which was a huge positive, because that was sort of the glaring weakness in my game in Abu Dhabi.
Does it take longer to adjust to the ball or the clubs?
The ball was the easiest thing. That was the thing that — I guess it sort of surprised me, as well. I thought it would take a little bit more time but the ball was great.
And you know, the biggest thing for me was just finding a driver that suited me and I feel like I’ve got one now that really works. I think the more you play with it, the more confidence you have in it. I just need rounds. I just need tournament rounds to get that confidence in it.
And hand in glove with all of the club fitting and swing fiddling, is a relationship with a trusted golf coach who can help you to regenerate feels and thoughts that had been successful in the past.
I just want to ask you about your coach. I realize you go way back with him. First, quickly, have you ever had anybody else but Michael [Bannon]? And also, could you just talk about what it is about him that’s been so good for you, maybe the way, what his approach is?
No, I’ve never had anyone — my dad introduced me to the game and coached me for the first few years of my life, but he sort of let Michael take over when I was seven or eight years old. And you know, he’s just — he keeps things very simple. I don’t like to get too technical. We always talk about feelings and what feeling did you have when you were playing well and what feeling did you have when you won here and what feeling did you have when you felt like you were hitting this type of shot.
Obviously we go on the video every day, and especially when you’re trying to get out of a bad habit, but it’s just about trying to remember. And he can tell me, he goes, remember a couple years ago when you played so well at this tournament, you said that you were feeling this?
And I’m like, yeah, that’s actually a good point. Then we can always go back. Because that’s the way to — if I feel like I was swinging it — I felt like the best I ever swung it was at Congressional in 2011, and he’s like, well, what were you feeling there? Well, just straight left arm , back, turn through, it was pretty simple. And he’s like well let’s try this, let’s try that.
It’s just nice to have a coach that’s been with you the whole way through because they know your bad habits. They know everything about your swing and it’s just nice to have that long relationship and not be having to try new things all the time and new theories and new philosophies.
It’s great to have Michael around and it’s great to have him around more, because sometimes I need the work and it’s easier just to have him here to explain things rather than e‑mail videos back and forth and try and explain things over the phone.
Not only was this last extensive answer very enlightening about how an elite player interfaces with this coach, it also highlights that even the No. 1 player in the world finds having a trusted coach an invaluable asset.
But even more comforting to those of us lost in space with our golf swings is the fact that even the great McIlroy has been lost in space too. To think that the beautiful swing he dominated a U.S. Open with is now just a fading memory his coach is trying to resuscitate.